As with so many industries, the upper echelons of the wine industry were traditionally reserved for men. The past two decades have brought with them significant change, and the world of wine is becoming more inclusive. Washington wine pioneers like Nina Buty, Mary Derby, Eve-Marie Gilla, and Kay Simon have personally witnessed the shift away from male-only wine events, vineyard management, and seminars. Join us in raising a glass to the women who prune, pick, crush, and bottle some of the best wines in the world right here in Washington State.
Mary Derby runs DaMa Wines on laughter, passion, and great wine. She started in the industry in 2000 with Spring Valley Vineyard. “We were the 25th winery to open in Walla Walla,” she said. “We” are Derby and her late husband Devin, who died unexpectedly in an accident in 2004. Grief can inspire great projects sometimes, and out of her sadness and grief, with a desire to provide for her family and work in a field that is creative and pleasurable, Derby created DaMa. The “Ma” of DaMa is Dawn Kammer who left DaMa in 2012. Derby then took on Judith Shulman as a partner. Shulman is a partner in a Seattle law firm and sweeps in to do the numbers, tidy the books, and keep DaMa on solid financial footing. She’s a guardian angel and workhorse, and Derby’s respect and affection for her is very clear.
Derby runs the day-to-day operation of bottling, tasting, and winemaking in addition to the hustle of marketing. She is drawn to the dynamic, busy environment at DaMa. “I am never bored,” she said, chuckling. “Every day is very different.” With a background in music, she loves the idea of using creative energy to orchestrate and conduct her business. Derby likes marketing, and DaMa is currently undergoing a rebranding effort. She is an inspired and inspiring person who loves the creative process, and sees marketing as part of the creative process of wine. “Marketing is telling the story of the wine, and sharing that story with customers.”
Every bottle of wine is different, another changing dynamic in Derby’s workplace. There’s a lot of pressure to get wines out into the market as quickly as possible, and Derby fights that tendency. “Sometimes we [winemakers] put our wines out on the market too soon. We don’t let them sit and chill out.” The result is wine that doesn’t have a full body and good balance. The quality of her wines comes from knowing how long to age the wine and what kind of barrels to age it in.
As one of the few wineries owned by women, DaMa participates in their community by raising scholarship funds for women to attend community college, and she’s organizing a calendar of women in Washington wine—photographed by Kathryn Elsesser— to raise money for scholarships as well. She’s a part of a group of women who get together for tastings, advice, gossip, and sharing. “I’ve always been collaborative with people. I like to gather people around some great bottles of wine and see what happens.” She also likes to create great theme dinners, like 1920s Paris. Her sense of fun and creativity are never far from her sense of good winemaking, and that makes DaMa an exciting label. “After a long day of bottling I go ‘Oh I hope I love it.’” And usually she does. “The numbers are pretty locked down, but there’s always second-guessing. You go with your gut.” And this woman’s gut? Is solid.